Joe McFadden 1950 - 2014
After graduating from college with a degree in painting, and after the obligatory pilgrimage to New York City, where I was told, all serious painters lived, I quit painting. It was not that I was critical of what others were doing; in fact I enjoyed the circus-like atmosphere of the big city art world. There were lots of ideas and everyone I knew was passionate about what she or he was doing. It was just painfully obvious to me that I had no personal connection to it. It has always been my opinion that painting is first and foremost a unique form of communication. A painting can make a statement that a poem or piece of music cannot. Most of the information we absorb, conscious or subconscious, is visual, and as we go about our lives, we constantly make connections between disparate images. Usually these connections are subliminal, but we still assign meaning to them and I believe they play a profound role in who we are.
Even though I was not painting, I was continuing to study Art History and whenever possible, to visit museums. While in Italy, looking at work that was religiously inspired, it occurred to me that the concept of a Saint is simply an idea with a face. The human face is truly a magical landscape and I believe the expression of any idea or emotion can be found in it. I started painting faces, making them up, twisting them, distorting them, looking for a dialog between the painting and me. I added references to things from my life that I find important; history, literature, mythology; anything that occurs to me while the piece is in progress.
In many of the pieces, humor plays a role, breaking the unspoken rule about combining humor with fine art. Humor is an important part of my life, so it is in the paintings. The collar and thin necks are trademarks of the Saints; they offer an effective barrier between mind and heart, an essential element in the human condition. The Saints are quixotic; grounded in history but very contemporary, serious yet whimsical. The fundamental idea is that of the shared universal experience; the more of a connection I have to the painting, the more honest it is, the more of a connection the viewer will have. - Joe McFadden I
It is said that one does not decide to become an artist, you are just born that way. McFadden's earliest memories are of drawing and visual storytelling. "I grew up in Stratford, Connecticut, just down the street from the Shakespeare Festival. In the early sixties, it was a very arty place with the actors bicycling around town in their berets and beards. My parents were musicians and our house was always full of books and instruments. It was a wonderful garden for a young artist." After graduating with a degree in painting from Florida State University, McFadden moved to New York City to pursue a career as an artist. Although he was sympathetic to the various art movements of the time, they held no attraction to him. Being a serious student of Art History, he knew that painters had to search for their voice, not simply repeat what had already been done. The artist states, "It has always been my opinion that painting is first and foremost a unique form of communication. A painting can make a statement that a poem or piece of music cannot. Most of the information we absorb, conscious or subconscious, is visual, and as we go about our lives, we constantly make connections between disparate images. Usually these connections are subliminal, but we still assign meaning to them and I believe they play a profound role in who we are."
For a few years, McFadden did not paint. "Even though I wasn't painting, I still thought of myself as an artist. I was miserable and I knew I had to do something different to" In the mid-seventies, McFadden joined the Peace Corps and got back to my work. I spent the next two years in South Korea. While there, he studied traditional oriental painting and calligraphy. Upon returning to the States, he settled in Seattle and got a job as a pictorial artist, painting sixty foot images on the side of buildings. "I learned more about painting in that job than all of my time in college. It was great, nostrils four feet wide!" After three years, he moved to a remote island in the San Juan's, a hundred miles north of Seattle. "Just me and my cats, Thursday and Friday. I would paint all day long, undisturbed. For an artist, it doesn't get any better than that." In 1987 McFadden's first Saint inspired creation won first prize in the Florida Watercolor Society's show. This same piece was also selected and presented during the American Watercolor Society's show.
While on a trip to Florence, Italy he stumbled upon what would become his life motif. "I was looking at paintings of Saints and I asked myself, what is a Saint to me today? I heard the answer clearly, an idea with a face. " He started painting faces, distorting them, exaggerating them and playing with them. McFadden realized that he could say anything by means of the human face. "People like to look at people," he says, "especially interesting ones who have something to say." Moving back to Florida, McFadden settled in St. Augustine where he met and married his wife, Lori. After finishing her graduate work in cell biology, Lori was hired by Florida State University in Tallahassee. McFadden was appointed Director of Instruction at the Florida Art Center, where he served for ten years. In addition to his supervisory duties, he taught oil, watercolor and drawing classes on the collegiate level.
One of his paintings was chosen to be the cover painting for the prestigious Highlands North Carolina Symphony annual publication. In addition, his paintings have been featured in a number of publications and he has done commission paintings for prestigious individuals throughout America. His storied paintings bring smiles and joy to viewers and collectors of his work. He was destined to become an American icon. McFadden was an avid chess player but found it difficult to play often as there were few chess players in the Tallahassee area.